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Frequently Asked Questions - Housing

In some specific cases, yes.

For example, if the landlord can show that permitting a dog of a certain breed to reside on the premises would substantially increase his insurance premiums or cause his insurance carrier to drop him, then it would generally be considered an undue burden on the landlord and he can refuse to permit the dog even if it is a fully trained service dog. See attachment.

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2006-06-12 HUD memo on insurance policy restrictions related to reasonable accommodations.PDF16.18 KB

Generally, no, but there are a few exceptions. Most often this situation is covered under the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), assuming it's a regular type of landlord (a private business or person who owns at least four residential units, ie houses/apartments). Churches are exempt as are a few others.

Plain English version of the FHAA: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FHLaws/yourrights.cfm
(Scroll down to "Additional Protection if You Have a Disability," not quite half way down the page)

Legal version of the FHAA: http://www.justice.gov/crt/housing/title8.php

Short version of the relevant passage:

§ 3604. Discrimination in the sale or rental of housing and other prohibited practices.
[I]it shall be unlawful ... to discriminate in the sale or rental ... to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of ... any person associated with that buyer or renter.

In my own experience, typically all that is needed is a phone call to let the landlord know that a person with a disability will be visiting and will be accompanied by their service dog. This is NOT required, but is a simple courtesy that can save headaches on both sides. Landlords appreciate knowing in advance (when possible) that a service dog will be visiting because it prepares them to answer questions from other tenants along the lines of, "Why is it Susie Jones gets to have a dog and I'm not allowed?"

Here's a sample letter I made up for a tenant with a service animal requesting an exemption to a "no pets" rule: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/285 A tenant with a visitor with a service dog might be able to take some ideas from it and tweak it to work for their purposes if needed.

In most cases: yes, but there are exceptions.

Most cases involving housing and persons with disabilities are covered under the Fair Housing Amendments Act. Some are covered under section 504 of the Rehab Act, and some under the Americans with Disabilities act.

To learn whether any of these laws applies in your own situation, consult a qualified attorney, your state's Attorney General, your state's Human Rights Commission, or the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This is a complicated question that should be answered by a qualified attorney. Some Federal laws, such as the Fair Housing Amendments Act, Section 504 of the Rehab Act, or Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act may protect some people with disabilities from being evicted because of a service dog. Not all rental housing is covered by a disability law. A qualified attorney can determine whether you qualify under any of these laws and whether or not your landlord is exempted under them.

Contrary to popular belief, some landlords ARE exempt from the regulations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act. The exceptions include (a) buildings with four or fewer units where the landlord lives in one of the units, and (b) private owners who do not own more than three single family houses, do not use real estate brokers or agents, and do not use discriminatory advertisements. The FHAA also does not apply to publicly owned (government owned) housing or to section 8 housing. Other laws, such as Section 508 of the Rehab Act and Title II of the ADA may apply in some cases. Consult a qualified attorney to learn which laws if any apply in your specific situation.

Service animals are not pets. However, you should still notify the landlord from the start that you have a service animal.

Bear in mind that regulations in housing are not the same as they are for public access. Though a business cannot ask you for proof of disability or proof of training for the service animal, a landlord may. This is because the duration of the relationship between landlord and tenant is much greater than that between merchant and customer.

In a situation where the landlord has a "no pets" policy in place, you are required to submit a letter requesting a reasonable accommodation making an exception to the "no pets" rule to permit you to keep a service animal.

Access in housing is different than public access. While they could not ask for proof of training in a grocery store, they may be able to in a landlord/tenant situation. This is because the duration of the relationship between landlord and tenant is much longer than that between merchant and customer.

Here is a sample letter requesting a modification in pet policies to permit a person with a disability to have a trained service dog reside with them: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/285

If the dog is an emotional support animal, rather than a service animal, use this sample letter instead: http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/215

This is a sample Letter to share with your doctor as an example of the letter needed from a physician for housing. It should be on the doctor's letterhead and dated less than a year previous to it's submission to the landlord. Choose the format appropriate for your need, either ESA, or SD below.

It is YOUR choice whether to reveal the specific diagnosis or nature of your disability. However, the landlord has a right to request information about how this accommodation will mitigate your disability. In the case of a service dog, it would be similar to the task question that can be asked in public accommodations. Simply modify the sample as needed to suit your individual needs.


for an ESA

[date]

Dear [Housing Authority/Landlord]:

[Full Name of Tenant] is my patient, and has been under my care since [date]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Due to [name of disability], [first name] has certain limitations regarding [list limitations]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, I have prescribed [first name] obtain a pet or emotional support animal. The presence of this animal is necessary for the mental health of [first name] because its presence will alleviate her symptoms of [list symptoms] by [list benefits].

Sincerely,

Name of Doctor


for a service dog

[date]

Dear [Housing Authority/Landlord]:

[Full Name of Tenant] is my patient, and has been under my care since [date]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Due to [name of disability], [first name] has certain limitations regarding [list limitations]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, I support [first name]'s decision to obtain a service animal. A specially trained service animal will help to mitigate his/her disability and improve independence and quality of life by doing [list tasks] for him/her.

Sincerely,

Name of Doctor

Sample Letter from a doctor (should be on the doctor's letterhead)

[date]

Dear [Housing Authority/Landlord]:

[Full Name of Tenant] is my patient, and has been under my care since [date]. I am intimately familiar with his/her history and with the functional limitations imposed by his/her disability. He/She meets the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Due to [name of disability], [first name] has certain limitations regarding [list limitations]. In order to help alleviate these difficulties, and to enhance his/her ability to live independently and to fully use and enjoy the dwelling unit you own and/or administer, [first name] uses a service animal which is individually trained to perform tasks which mitigate her disability, including [list tasks].

Sincerely,

Name of Doctor

This is a basic template that someone might use as a guidance for writing to his or her landlord requesting an exception to "no pets" rules, or pet restriction rules, to accommodate a service animal. Please feel free to use and change this sample to suit your own needs.

August 1, 2008

Adelaide Bonfamille, Building Manager
231 Main Street
Dallas, TX 03909

Dear Mrs. Bonfamille:

I am a tenant at 231 Main Street in unit #363. I have a disability and a service animal as defined Under the federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq.). Scooby, my service dog, is trained to open doors and retrieve items I cannot retrieve for myself.

The Fair Housing Amendments Act requires that landlords modify "no pets" policies or policies restricting types of pets to permit trained service animals to reside with their disabled handlers. I am therefore requesting that you modify those rules to permit me to have my trained service dog reside with me.

I have attached verification from my doctor that I am disabled and use a service animal.

Please send your reply in writing about this request for accommodation within ten business days or by August 11. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerely,
Norville Rogers

Sample doctor's letter to accompany request for accommodation

Wanting to get around "no pets" policies really isn't the right reason for getting a service dog. Persons with disabilities get service dogs because they need help to live independent lives.

The legal requirements for having a service dog can be rigorous. The landlord can require proof of disability and proof the dog is trained as a service dog. In one court case, a judge even ruled that a landlord can require the tenant to submit to examination by a doctor of the landlord's choosing to determine disability.

Forcing a landlord to accept a dog in spite of a "no pets" rule can lead to hostile feelings between landlord and tenant. It can become very stressful knowing the landlord is constantly on the lookout for any excuse possible to terminate the residency. There may also be criminal penalties for making false claims. In some states this includes fines and/or jail time.

It is usually more prudent to persuade the landlord to accept the pet with a Pet resume or find pet-friendly housing.